Dr. John Pilsner - Portrait - Fall 2023 --0660

Dr. John Pilsner

Assistant Professor of English

Director of the Humanities and Catholic Cultures Program

Dr. John Pilsner received his doctorate in comparative literature and a certificate in Renaissance studies from the Graduate Center of the City of New York (CUNY). He taught courses in comparative literature, English literature, writing pedagogy, and philosophy at Queens College, New York, before joining the English Department at Franciscan University in 2013. He is currently the faculty sponsor for the English Honor Society and a vocational coach for the Center for Leadership at Franciscan University.

Dr. Pilsner is a lifelong student and teacher of humanities and Catholic culture. His academic research is interdisciplinary, drawing on history, literature, philosophy, theology, languages, and art history. He has also studied and conducted research in several European countries, including Italy, France, England, and Spain.

Dr. Pilsner has written on literary-philosophical works which use wit and humor to challenge contemporary paradigms of learning, such St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, Francis Petrarch’s On His Own Ignorance, and St. Thomas More’s Utopia. He has received various awards, including a University of Toronto Open Fellowship, a Capelloni Fellowship for dissertation research (CUNY Graduate Center), and a President’s Award for Excellence in teaching (Queens College).

  • Ph.D., with Distinction, Department of Comparative Literature, The Graduate School & University Center of The City University of New York (CUNY)
  • Certificate Program in Renaissance Studies, CUNY Graduate Center
  • M.A., English, University of Toronto
  • B.A., Drama and English, Hofstra University
  • Mario Capelloni Dissertation Award, CUNY Graduate Center
  • Andrew Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities (offered)
  • Essay Prize in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies, Renaissance Society of America and CUNY Graduate Center
  • Folger Institute Grant, Shakespeare
  • Folger Library, Washington, D.C.
  • President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, Queens College
Select Publications

Areas of Specialization

  • Renaissance humanism and literature, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, English and Continental.
  • Interdisciplinary and cross-cultural research in Neoplatonism, Christian Platonism, moral philosophy, lay piety, mysticism, rhetoric vs. dialectic, satire, and concepts of wisdom and folly.

Current Works in Progress

  • Petrarch’s Socratic Idiot: Humanist Ignorance and Spiritual Wisdom in On His Own Ignorance and That of Many Others
  • Thomas More’s Ironic Personae the the Limits of Lucian
  • The Silenus Metaphor in Erasmus’s Poetics and Hermeneutics

Recent Publications

  • Teaching a Franciscan Poetic in a Study of the Literary Voice (2015)

Select Conference Presentations and Invited Lectures

  • Teaching A Franciscan Poetic in a Study of the Literary Voice (2014)
  • The Figure of the Idiota from the Acts of the Apostles through Petrarch (2012)
  • Negative Figuration and Theology in Erasmus’ Praise of Folly and the Letter to Dorp (2011)
  • No-Place is Everywhere: The Infinite Limits of Thomas More’s Utopia (2009)
  • A Dialectical Poetic: More’s Utopia and the Discourse of Opposition (2009)
  • Erasmus, More, and Dorp: Intertextual Questions and Responses (2006)
  • Philosophers and Fools: Learned Ignorance and Socratic Method in Nicholas of Cusa, Erasmus, and Thomas More (2004)


  • The Sage and the Fool: Antithesis, Paradoxy, and Reconciliation in a Dialectical Poetics of ‘Moriasophia’ (2012)”
Department Faculty